I seriously think that I became another person for a few years out of desperation.
Growing up, I was the introverted-but-insane little girl who compulsively made up dance routines to Madonna songs and earnestly tried to adopt every living, breathing animal in my immediate vicinity. Later on, I wrote walkthroughs for N64 games on the GameFAQs.com forums and even had–gasp!–an imposter pretending to be me at one point (they were just jealous that I came up with certain theories about the overworld in Banjo Kazooie before they did, natch). But trying to mingle with an enormous group of people–especially big, important people–was scary. In fact, it’s been scary for me my whole life, even as an adult, and even when I did it for the purpose of landing myself a job a few years ago.
Despite attending many-a recruiting event, networking social, and “accounting mixer” (yes, those exist), I eventually ended up getting a job not by doing any of the above, but by talking to a super awesome recruiter one-on-one at an event I was co-hosting as the President of my business organization. It was sort of a fluke, as we had started our conversation talking about something completely unrelated. In the end, being (a polished and temporarily non-voguing version of) myself in a more relaxed got me a job; putting on airs in a tense one did not.
When I realized that I needed to change course and start doing something I loved, I knew that with my utterly pitiful lack of experience in my areas of interest (art, design, writing, and editing), I needed to get REALLY creative with selling myself. Not in that way, but, you know, for finding a creative job. And by creative, let me clarify that I mean related to writing.
Gosh dangit. Anyways…
The thought of going to big, fancy events with hundreds of other suit-clad hopefuls terrifies the crap out of me. It terrified me when I was trying to coax myself into an accounting-related career and it terrifies me now, even if the result of my networking could make me the next J.K. Rowling.
Why? Because it feels like I’m acting in a really, really boring movie.
It’s like there’s a director in my head saying, “Okay, we’re shooting the networking event scene tonight. Here’s your script. Look excited to get the job, but not too excited. Don’t forget to leave your resume with the person before you head out. Make sure you smile at all times. Wait–not at all times, that’s creepy. Smile adequately. Start getting into hair and makeup at 4:00 pm. Ready? And…ACTION!”
From then on, it’s all smoke and mirrors. It’s acting. It’s overwhelming and fake. All so that I can self-serve by getting a job. Obviously, I’m not the first person to take issue with the idea of “networking” and I’m hardly the first to suggest alternatives. But as someone who has a decent amount of experience in networking, I want to be a part of the movement away from networking and toward creating meaningful relationships with people.
So, where to start? Here are some things that have worked for me and other people. If you’re like me, you’re probably pretty introverted, so I promise that these are all introvert-friendly!
Use the Internet
Back to my old ways, hooray! Let’s face it: for the shy among us, it’s easier to be ourselves on the internet without nervousness creeping through and ruining our chances. Find Facebook groups, Meetups, and jobs/gigs to help get you connected with the community you want to be connected to. LinkedIn is also an amazing source that people take very seriously as a way to connect with others (and find jobs!) so make your LinkedIn profile amazing from head to toe and actually use it.
Have family and close friends sing your praises
I highly doubt that you’re surrounded by all introverts. Maybe your dad is the ultimate Chatty Cathy or your Aunt Estelle has a ridiculous amount of yoga friends who know famous artists or movie producers. No matter what, most of us have at least someone in our circle who knows someone. And because that person probably knows you pretty well, they’ll be able to legitimately speak highly of you and, at the very least, help you get your foot in the door. And if your family and friends are good people (and let’s face it, if you’re reading this blog, you’re awesome and everyone you know is probably awesome), chances are their connections are, too.
Go out and travel/try off-the-wall things
When you put yourself out there, people feel inclined to approach you. When I went to Japan by myself, I was approached at a museum by a man from New York who was an art enthusiast. His husband, whom he was with, was a curator at a museum! Had I been bent on finding a career in the same field, I could have absolutely let them know of my interest. It is entirely possible that it could have led somewhere. No expectations, no pressure, just a simple conversation. The possibilities could have ranged from, “Oh, how quaint” to “You need a job? We have an opening!” These are the little moments that can lead to lifelong careers, after all.
But you don’t have to go abroad to have this happen to you. Interesting people do interesting things, so the next person willing to offer you a job (or a connection to one) could be found at the next cooking class/concert/charity event you go to. The fact that people at these events will already have something in common with you makes the potential connection all the more genuine and the development of the conversation all the more natural. And before anyone steps in and says, “But I have no one to go to these things with!” I’m going to stop you right there. You don’t need anyone but you to go with. In early 2011, I randomly went to a meeting for “Beta Alpha Psi” (the accounting/business organization on campus) by myself, despite being surrounded by fifty other people. A year-and-a-half later, I was the President of the whole organization and had a job. When you put yourself out there, stuff just happens.
If all else fails, you can always do your own thing (remember: you don’t need permission!), but the above definitely applies if you are looking to work for someone, regardless of the field you’re looking at. Above all, just remember that finding a job is not easy–but you will find one if you’re willing to work hard and try new methods when needed.
Do you hate networking, too? Did you get your job without traditional “networking” and have any suggestions for others to do the same? What is the future of “networking”? Leave your responses in the comments below!